Here’s my latest column for the Ham & High:
The betting is that Gordon Brown will go to the Palace shortly and call the general election – finally! – for May 6.
This election will be different for me in two ways – the first time I’ll be fighting it as an MP seeking re-election and the first time my party will be fighting it with such a high profile and popular Shadow Chancellor as Vince Cable. The national polls repeatedly say that he’s the most popular choice for Chancellor – and that’s what I hear on the doorsteps in Haringey too.
Door knocking never fails to be interesting – because people are infinitely interesting. You couldn’t or shouldn’t be doing this job if you don’t think that. And all politics is local in reality – even when we speak in strange tongues at the Mother of all Parliaments, it’s still about how we are affected in our own lives at home or at work.
Take the woman who told me that she never voted because she didn’t need anything from the state. Her children went to private school; she had a private GP and so on. I had a go. What did she think would happen if she had an emergency accident or illness – or if one of her children needed urgent medical attention? So – having got her attention – I told her about the Labour Government’s health plans with the threatened closure of the Whittington A&E and of our massive fight to stop the closure. When you or your children need emergency medical help – not much use saying that you go privately – you need an ambulance and an A&E that is on your doorstep. You can’t live as if you are in a protected bubble. Yes – money can buy many things, but a society where the super-rich isolate themselves is not only wrong – it creates a divide in society that damages everyone, on both sides of that divide.
We know from detailed research that the most economically successful countries and those with the happiest people are those where the gap between rich and poor is the narrowest.
Yes of course small class sizes in private schools are a fantastic privilege – and the reason that children do well in the private sector – regardless of their innate ability. That’s why the Liberal Democrat ‘pupil premium’ would put £2.5 billion extra into schools, including those in Haringey – letting heads and governors decide how best to spend it to close that advantage the private sector has.
I don’t think this woman will change her children’s schooling even if the state classes were smaller and that is her right – but for parents who could never afford to send their children privately this will make a huge difference. And here in Haringey – it will end Labour’s unfair funding in our schools as our children get £1,300 per head less than pupils in Camden, Islington and Hackney – grossly unfair and equivalent to 1,000 + extra teachers.
And then – I knocked on the door of a woman who told me that she was thinking of giving up working because it wasn’t worth it. She was very poorly paid, could barely make ends meet – and actually thought she would be better off on benefits. So I talked to her about the LibDem manifesto pledge on fair taxes – that no-one would pay any tax on their first £10,000 of earnings (which not only takes the very low paid out of tax but puts £700 back in the average earner’s pocket). Helping people sustain themselves – helps all of us – and putting money back in people’s pockets means they can start spending again – which will help our struggling local high streets.
She said her children were nearing the end of their school and college days – but that there was no work around and she was worried about them having no future. I shared her concerns about young people becoming a lost generation – and the dreadful loss of self worth that comes with believing you have no future.
I explained that we are promising that no young person would stay on JobSeeker’s allowance for more than 90 days. Every young person would then be able to get work experience, training or education education. It is so difficult to get a job without experience – but how can you get experience when no one will give you a job? We will actually pay a ‘training allowance’ so that young people can afford to do internships in their chosen field.
I could go on endlessly – every door has its own story to tell. But time and again, even if at the start of the story it’s nothing about politics, somewhere along the line the decisions we make in Parliament – the laws we pass, the budgets we set – have an impact on the story. That’s why the choice of who represents us is so important.